The first Easter vigil I attended was early in my experience at King’s Chapel, around 1996. The vigil at that time was held at 10 o’clock at night, later than it is now. As you know, at the vigil King’s Chapel is dark, the atmosphere is sad and brooding. Shadows are all around and the only light is from flickering candles. The form of the service is quite unlike Morning Prayer, with its familiar canticles and prayers, making the church seem an altogether unfamiliar place.
Engrossed in the service, I sat in my darkened pew with my son, who was seven years old, stretched out on the seat beside me and dozing. When an offer was made to us to come forward and renew baptismal vows, I knew I wanted to participate, although I had never heard of such a practice.
What would it mean to renew these vows? Most of us don’t remember our baptisms, having been christened as babies. I had been baptized hastily on a Saturday afternoon by the pastor of my childhood church, who realized a week before my confirmation that my parents hadn’t gotten around to having me baptized as a baby. I don’t recall any vows, and didn’t think much of it. We are usually passively baptized, the decision having been made by loving adults. How wonderful to be offered a chance to actively choose to affirm my baptism!
Deciding to accept the offer, I got up from my box pew but realized that Chris might wake up while I was gone and be afraid, alone in the pew in the darkened church. I roused him into a semi-awake state and led him by the hand to the communion rail, where we knelt alongside a few others.
Charles Forman, our beloved affiliate minister, stopped before me, touched my forehead and murmured some words of prayer and hope, of Jesus and the promise of everlasting life. He then stepped in front of Chris and, wordlessly, placed his hand on Chris’ head and rested it there, a loving act of benediction on a small child, a christening too newly minted to be in need of reaffirmation.
Today as I read the service of Morning Prayer with Joy I experience once again the feeling of being part of a continuum of history, of people worshipping at King’s Chapel far into the past, worshipping right here, right now, and continuing this reassuring practice into the future.
My earliest experience of King’s Chapel services was as they were conducted by Carl Scovel and Charles Forman. Both well loved and learned, they were steeped in the words of our Book of Common Prayer, which seemed to flow from both of them as naturally as a flowing river. To hear those words from them over and over, on many Sundays, was a gift to this new member of the congregation – the words, surely, as they were meant to be read and said.
Charles Forman knelt on the left, and intoned the Collect for Peace, with its beautiful words, “Oh God, who art the author of peace and the lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom…..”
Perfect freedom…….perfect words to help us begin to fathom God – how could these words ever come from anyone else? When we lost Charles Forman too early, I wondered how they could ever seem the same again without him to say them.
And yet, as the next reader knelt on the left, I found the words to be just as moving, just as perfect. Through Sundays of hearing many assistants read the Collect for Peace, and many of my fellow parishioners, I found the same truth in the words as I had when they were intoned so gracefully by Charles. And in each reader, I see the spirit of Charles Forman, blessing their reading of God’s love of peace and concord, of our eternal life, and of service as perfect freedom. And I feel blessed to be able to read the words myself.
As I walked over the hill on my first visit to King’s Chapel I wondered what I would find in the Old Stone Church that looked somewhat austere and forbidding. I passed through those heavy doors for the first time, you know the ones you walked through today; I was greeted by the ushers and guided to a red-cushioned pew, where I readjusted myself and the footstools several times to find the least uncomfortable position to
settle into for the service.
I don’t remember what I was expecting, but I knew what I was seeking. After years of being away from any kind of formal church, and having been through a difficult divorce and career change, I had stepped into a Christian fellowship that gathered in my town. With this small group that read the Bible, prayed and sang songs of praise I had had a profound and undeniable experience of the love of God, of Jesus’ love for me, an awakening in my heart and mind, and my spirit was ignited. I needed to find a place where I could nurture and grow my infant Christian faith. I had a voracious appetite to know more about Jesus and his Jewish roots, to understand the world he lived in and his impact on the world of his time. I wanted to really grasp what he meant in the perplexing parables, to learn about his ministry, and I wanted this relationship to shape me. I was determined to find a place where the spiritual fire I felt would not be extinguished by dogma, empty ritual, literal interpretations of the bible, or too much superficial hoopla.
As I sat in my pew at King’s Chapel that Sunday my senses were alert to everything. Early on I felt a twinge of emotion, and as I listened to the music of the organ and choir, sang each hymn, heard the soulful prayers and read from the prayer book, a faint rumbling in my chest rose into my throat. Tears rolled from my eyes, and I silently wept through most of the service. Such a powerful mix of emotions seemed to wash through me, cleansing, comforting, assuring, and quenching a thirst I didn’t know I had, while at the same time warming my heart.
Carl Scovel preached about Christian Healing that Sunday and invited us to join him for a class he was offering, which I did....and so began my journey with King’s Chapel.
I’m still here...27 Easters later, I found a place that I could call my home church and what followed was my involvement in all sorts of activities - services, committees, classes, retreats, hikes, Habitat for Humanity trips, and so much more.
One particularly meaningful activity for me was a prayer group that was offered as a follow-up to the Spiritual Autobiography course and we met every other week at the Parish House. The format was simple - check in, read the scripture for the day, and lift each other in prayer. We also prayed for those on a list given to us by the minister, usually names of people we didn’t know. Among those was a baby, born three months prematurely, 2 lbs., in intensive care and on critical life support. Zachary was in our prayers for many weeks. One Sunday at the end of the service I reached across the pew to welcome a woman who I had not seen at church before. When I asked Betsy Peterson what brought her to King’s Chapel today, she told me she was here today to thank God that her grandson Zachary was home from the hospital. And....you can imagine my joy – “We’ve been praying for Zachary!” . . . Betsy mentioned the past week that a very hearty Zachary just celebrated his 19th birthday.
Another answer to prayer, happened when my best friend and beloved, Dick Perkins, and I were married during the Sunday Service of Morning Prayer 10 years ago. Although it was quite common for baptisms to take place during the service, we were the first, as far as anyone knows to have a marriage ceremony. We stepped into the chancel, read our vows and were blessed by many of you who were here, along with two hundred or so of our best friends and family who were visiting this historic church for the first time. Since our minister, Earl Holt, had to catch a plane, Dick and I greeted everyone in the vestibule - the congregation, including Joe, who took the T regularly from the shelter where he lived in Braintree; our family and friends; and the many tourists that were visiting Boston on that holiday weekend, especially a couple from Minnesota who were “delighted to attend our wedding.”
So 27 years into my journey with King’s Chapel I have found what I was seeking and so much more... there is always something new that inspires my faith, but most of all I recognize that it is YOU, my church-home family, that inspire me. I recognize that I am a part of this living community of inquirers, believers, doubters, challengers, teachers, care-givers, people of action – today and you inspire my faith in God.
And especially today as we enter into this Holy Week, and as we venture together into the future of God’s unfolding Spirit of love for us, our minister Joy Fallon welcomes us, with open arms – wherever we are on our journey. And I am so grateful that YOU are part of my journey.
Thank you so much.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.”
Heinrich, at the organ, can vouch that, being a member of the tenor section of the choir, I am not exactly prone to moments of silence, much less, reflection.
But I attempt both today. To begin, a memory: it is December 24th 2012. Two hours before the Lessons and Carols service, and I am sitting alone in the choir loft. Like a deep gasp before the big storm, the chapel prepares for the service by purging: one by one, people file out of the building until I am by myself.
It’s an extraordinary experience, the deafening silence of King’s Chapel. Initially, it seems to be buzzing with sound: the hum of lights, the footsteps and alarms outside. But soon all that dissipates, leaving nothing but austere seclusion. Imagine yourself apart, on the eve of Christmas, on the verge of jubilation, swathed in solitude--nothing to listen to but yourself.
Silence is important, it turns out. Every year, I’m interrogated about my Lenten practices. Initially, they were a way to demarcate the season, to remind myself that it is Lent, and I told myself that when I could keep it without the reminders, they would slowly fall away.
But I found that I fell in love with the Lenten table I set at home--to experience the palpable hush that falls over the house on Ash Wednesday and broods until Easter. And perhaps you, too, can find the beauty in it--it is a season of morels and ramps, of planning the garden and watching the crocuses push up through the thawing soil, of germinating seeds and cutting the first and final flush of daffodils for the dinner table. None of this, I know, is profound in itself, but it’s these meager moments--these interstices between everything else--in which I find myself again, or remember to, at least.
Every year, it doesn’t seem to last nearly long enough. Soon, we will all be called again. Soon very deep, very profound things will happen. Nails will be driven in, stones will be turned away--events that will set in motion a deep schism in one of the world’s oldest religions, and will challenge our fundamental notion of what divinity is. But for now, in these dwindling weeks, we are left alone. Alone to reckon with ourselves, alone but for the company of mushrooms, flowers, and silence.
Winter kept us warm, indeed.